“At” The Table or “On” the Table – The Need for Teacher Input in Educational “Reform”

You can be either “at” the table or “on” the table.

For teachers in North Carolina, there are many other prepositions that could identify the relationship between the legislation process and teacher input such as “under” the table, “without” a place at the table, or “behind” the table.

As a veteran public school teacher, when I see entities like BEST NC or other “business-minded” reformers defending or lauding a piece of legislation, I take it with a grain of salt.

Or an entire salt block.

Aside from the glowing generalities that sprinkle the rhetoric of many a reformer, I could not help but think that so many other “innovations” that have been created and enacted in North Carolina, they lack a crucial and vital component: teacher input.

Think of  those “new and pioneering solutions” that include the new principal pay plan, the rise of charter schools, the expansion of vouchers, the gutting and rebirth of a distant relative in the Teaching Fellows Program, and much more.

They all have one thing in common: no teacher input.

When the NC General Assembly went into GOP hands and McCrory came to the governor’s mansion, the process of “reforming” education began in earnest. There was the removal of due-process rights, the removal of graduate degree pay, Standard 6, push for merit pay, bonus pay, removal of longevity pay, removal of class size caps and then the placing of class size caps without funds to hire extra teachers or build extra classrooms, etc.

The list goes on.

Were there any teachers involved in these reforms? Any teacher advocacy groups consulted? Any way a teacher could chime in?

Those are not rhetorical questions. And considering that the current General Assembly seems bent upon diluting the voice of groups like NCAE, it should not be a stretch to realize that teachers are not consulted when it comes to schools.

The Report on Education Legislation from the 2017 Session of the General Assembly released by DPI and the State Board has a list of all of the bills that were passed that in one way or another affect public education.

From pages 4 and 5.

Bills 2Bills 1

Excluding the “local bills,” how many of those bills and “reforms” had teacher input? How many of those initiatives had any consideration from teachers and asked for contributions from public school educators?

Look at SB599. Sen. Chad Barefoot’s idea of streamlining the teacher recruitment process literally allows for teachers to enter the profession with very little preparation. Was there teacher input?

Again, not a rhetorical question. And do not let it be lost in the world of sadistic irony that Barefoot was the chief champion of the newest version of the Teacher Fellows Program.

When education reformers try and push their agendas can they actually really claim that they have extended relationships with actual teachers and teacher groups?

I do not think so. And that resembles the modus operandi of the NC General Assembly who in 2016 crafted in a special session the very “laws” (like HB17) that were battled over in courts that enabled a man with hardly any educational experience to run without checks and balances the entire public school system.

And the very criteria that measure teacher effectiveness and school performance are established and constantly changed by that same body of lawmakers without teacher input will always translate into a narrative that reform is always needed.

At one time we as a state led the nation in educational innovation.

We sure did. We were considered one of the most progressive public education state systems in the country.

But that was before teachers were not allowed to be “at” the table any longer.

However, there is one way that the table ( and the menu) can be reclaimed: voting on issues like public education in November.

Remember Longevity Pay? NC Teachers Are the Only State Employees Who Do Not Receive It. There’s a Devious Reason.

In the long session of 2014, the NC General Assembly raised salaries for teachers in certain experience brackets that allowed them to say that an “average” salary for teachers was increased by over 7%. They called it a “historic raise.”

However, if you divided the amount of money used in these “historic” raises by the number of teachers who “received” them, it would probably amount to about $270 per teacher.

That historic raise was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay.

Similar to an annual bonus, this is something that all state employees in North Carolina — except, now, for teachers — gain as a reward for continued service. The budget rolled that money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise.

longevity

That’s like me stealing money out of your wallet and then presenting it to you as a gift. And remember that teachers are the only state employees who do not receive longevity pay.

Just teachers.

It’s almost like the North Carolina General Assembly doesn’t even want to have teachers be considered employees of the state.

This summer will be the fourth summer that veteran teachers will not receive longevity pay. For the many veteran  teachers who have never really seen a raise in the past 6-7 years in actual dollars, the loss of longevity pay actually created a loss of net income on a yearly basis.

Consider the following table compiled by John deVille, NC public school activist and veteran teacher who has chronicled the various changes in educational policy for years. He tracked the recent teacher pay “increase” and used DATA-DRIVEN logic to show something rather interesting.

teacherpay2019

What deVille did was to compare salaries as proposed from the recent budget to the 2008-2009 budget that was in place right before the Great Recession hit, the same financial catastrophe that most every GOP stalwart seems to forget happened ten years ago. Adjusting the 2008-2009 salary schedule with an inflation index from the Bureau of Labor, the third column shows what those 2008-2009 salaries would be like now. Most steps see a shortfall. Add to that the loss of longevity pay that was used to help finance these “historic raises” and the amount of money lost by teachers over these past ten years becomes rather eye-opening.

Longevity pay does mean that much to veteran teachers. It also means a lot to the NCGA because they used its elimination to help wage a systematic war against veteran teachers.

In the last four years, new teachers entering the profession in North Carolina have seen the removal of graduate degree pay bumps and due-process rights. While the “average” salary increases have been most friendly to newer teachers (financed in part by removal of longevity), those pay “increases” do plateau at about Year 15 in a teacher’s career. Afterwards, nothing really happens. Teachers in that position may have to make career-ending decisions.

The removal of longevity might make those decisions easier to make on a personal level, but more difficult for the state to recover from.

Veteran teachers fight for schools, for students, for fairness in funding, and for the profession. When they act as a cohesive group, they represent an entity that scares the current leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly like nothing else.

One of the best ways to act as a cohesive group is to vote in November.

Supt. Mark Johnson’s Empty “Authority”

On July 2nd, State Superintendent Mark Johnson sent the following letter to upper level leaders at DPI.

johnsonpic

Alex Granados of EdNC.org recently released a report on Johnson’s letter.

With the 8 June 2018 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of Session Law 2016-126, I am now exercising my authority under that Act to manage administrative and supervisory personnel of the Department. Accordingly, I am changing your position appointment from “dual report” to reporting [only to the Superintendent directly] or [to the Superintendent through the Deputy State Superintendent]. The change in your appointment is effective immediately,” Johnson wrote (https://www.ednc.org/2018/07/17/state-board-of-education-loses-power-over-dpi-leadership/).

It should not be forgotten that literally the week before this letter was sent, Johnson had his HR department deliver pink slips to over 40 DPI staff members whose jobs were compromised by the very same people who gave Johnson his “authority.”

Earlier today, a brave person working at DPI shared a perspective of what it is like inside the very place where Johnson has “authority.” It is found as a comment to a previous post on this blog – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2018/07/15/nearly-1-in-5-nc-students-are-opting-out-of-traditional-public-schools-and-its-a-deliberate-plan/.

We’re told ‘shh, be quiet; this is a sensitive time’ for all our colleagues who were laid off, when in reality there should be a loud leader fighting for his folks every step of the way, even if the jobs could not be saved. You see, that’s how the damage really occurs here in our agency — not by vocal or visible action of those who ultimately have to answer to their supervisor every day, month and year, but by the SILENCE and joint inaction of the only ones in the agency who AREN’T supervised. The superintendent has no official boss and writes no annual work plan like the rest of us; instead, he gets a four-year ride and won’t have a whiff of accountability for another two and half years, long after the damage has been done. Meanwhile, scores of good people continue to walk out the door, either voluntarily or involuntarily, and the Public Schools of North Carolina will continue to suffer for it.

Johnson’s authority is maintained by his “SILENCE and inaction.”

It would be interesting if a viable and wide-spread poll could be carried out over the entire state that would measure the public’s approval of Johnson’s job. It would also probably be even more damning if that poll was given only to public school teachers.

Consider this – a corporate attorney who taught for two school years through a program that historically does not place many long term teachers into the public schools, who did not complete a full term as a school board member and has never had a child in the public schools was elected in the most contentious election year in recent memory to become state superintendent. After he was elected and before he took office, he was granted more power as a state superintendent by a gerrymandered legislature in a special session that was thought to be called to repeal HB2. He then spent the first sixteen months of his term “embroiled” in a legal battle with the state board of education that is controlled by the same political party and literally has been a non-public figure while a budget that expands vouchers, keeps charter schools from being regulated, lowers per pupil expenditures for traditional public schools, and cuts the budget for the very department he is supposed to run.

All on the taxpayers’ dime.

And he is now exercising his empty authority.

If a principal ran a school in this fashion, the negativity would blot out the sun. If a teacher facilitated a class in this manner, student achievement would be stifled.

Voting out Mark Johnson’s enablers in November would go a long way into restoring integrity as an ingredient in the way we are treating those who directly support our public schools.

 

 

 

 

 

May 16th Was Two Months Ago. So, What Are We Still Willing To Do?

IMG_6484

It is theorized that one of the reasons that the recent General Assembly session was so quickly finished was to hopefully allow the emotional and visceral reactions to the recent budget to possibly subside a little. Maybe allow for people to forget what happened and let time work some magic in the memories of public school teachers and advocates.

Almost six months divides that day in May with Election Day in November.

Two of those months have already passed. And the new school year will be starting in a little over one month.

So, what can be done between now and November? Lots.

  • You can canvas for political candidates who are pro-public education.
  • You can make sure that friends and relatives are apprised of the current situation in North Carolina’s public education system and make sure that they are voting.
  • You can join education activist efforts to help galvanize more and more people. Red4EdNC.com is a great place to start.
  • You can call or email your legislators about issues and ask questions.
  • Be sure to look at local elections for school boards and county / city commissioners and make sure which ones are most sensitive to the plight of public schools.
  • Connect with others on social media and spread the word.
  • Volunteer to register voters and maybe even drive some to the polls.
  • Find out about early voting and absentee voting options and help those in your family or circle of friends who may need these avenues to participate.
  • If you are not a teacher, then volunteer at a school in the early fall or go to events sponsored by the school and take others with you so they can see how important public schools are.
  • Wear Red 4 Ed.
  • Wear spirit wear from your local schools.
  • Remember what 20,000 teachers looked like on May 16th and how much that rattled the current powers-that-be.

 

Would You Want Your Students’ Essays Graded by Computers?

erater

NPR recently did a report on “robo-grading” of student essays via computer for standardized tests and other constructed responses. It’s a growing field in which proponents have touted advancements in artificial intelligence and savings of time and money.

Developers of so-called “robo-graders” say they understand why many students and teachers would be skeptical of the idea. But they insist, with computers already doing jobs as complicated and as fraught as driving cars, detecting cancer, and carrying on conversations, they can certainly handle grading students’ essays.

 

He writes,

…but the basic problem, beyond methodology itself, was that the testing industry has its own definition of what the task of writing should be, which more about a performance task than an actual expression of thought and meaning. The secret of all studies of this type is simple– make the humans follow the same algorithm used by the computer rather than he kind of scoring that an actual English teacher would use. The unhappy lesson there is that the robo-graders merely exacerbate the problems created by standardized writing tests.

The point is not that robo-graders can’t recognize gibberish. The point is that their inability to distinguish between good writing and baloney makes them easy to game. Use some big words. Repeat words from the prompt. Fill up lots of space. Students can rapidly learn performative system gaming for an audience of software. And the people selling this baloney can’t tell the difference themselves. That’s underlined by a horrifying quote in the NPR piece. Says the senior research scientist at ETS, “If someone is smart enough to pay attention to all the things that an automated system pays attention to, and to incorporate them in their writing, that’s no longer gaming, that’s good writing.” 

In other words, rather than trying to make software recognize good writing, we’ll simply redefine good writing as what the software can recognize.

Computer scoring of human writing doesn’t work. In states like Utah and Ohio where it is being used, we can expect to see more bad writing and more time wasted on teaching students how to satisfy a computer algorithm rather than develop their own writing skills and voice to become better communicators with other members of the human race. We’ll continue to see year after year companies putting out PR to claim they’ve totally got this under control, but until they can put out a working product, it’s all just a dream.

He’s right.

You just can’t automate voice.

Makes one think if this is the direction for North Carolina on a large scale because there are many in Raleigh who do not want people to develop voice.

Stuart Egan: Who Is Behind the Assault on Public Education in North Carolina?

As always, thanks to Dr. Ravitch for keeping North Carolina in the national spotlight.

Diane Ravitch's blog

NBCT High School Teacher Stuart Egan writes here that public school enrollment in North Carolina has dropped to 81%,just as the Tea Party Republicans hoped. As public schools are starved of resources, growing numbers switch to religious schools, charter schools, virtual charters and Home schools.

Who has made this happen, in addition to the Tea Party?

“Consider the following national entities:

*Teach For America
*Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
*Walton Family Foundation
*Eli Broad Foundation
*KIPP Charter Schools
*Democrats For Educational Reform
*Educational Reform Now
*StudentsFirst
*America Succeeds
*50CAN
*American Legislative Exchange Council
*National Heritage Academies
*Charter School USA
*Team CFA
*American Federation for Children

“They are all at play in North Carolina, totally enabled by the powers-that-be in the NC General Assembly and their supportive organizations.”

Think of it: 81% of the students in the state attend public schools, but they don’t matter!

To make matters worse, all the…

View original post 39 more words

“Nearly 1 in 5 NC students are opting out of traditional public schools” – And It’s a Deliberate Plan

This past week, the Raleigh News & Observer printed a report entitled “Nearly 1 in 5 NC students are opting out of traditional public schools. Does it matter?” in which T. Keung Hui gave an overview of the continuing trend of more and more students leaving traditional public schools and attending private, charter, and home schools.

For the third year in a row, enrollment has fallen in North Carolina’s traditional public schools even as the number of students continues to rise in charter schools, private schools and homeschools. The percentage of the state’s 1.8 million students attending traditional public schools has dropped to 80.8 percent and is continuing to fall rapidly (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/article214708040.html?__twitter_impression=true).

It is a report that should be read but it should be read in conjunction with an editorial that the N&O Board released a day afterward on Hui’s piece. It is entitled “Shrinking public schools reflects the state’s neglect.” It is spot-on.

That editorial states,

What’s happening in North Carolina is that a concerted effort by the Republican-controlled General Assembly is starving public schools of resources and encouraging the expansion of educational options that lack standards and oversight” (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/article214851905.html?__twitter_impression=true).

That concerted effort is actually a three-headed attack aimed to shed an ill-favored light on public schools to help bolster more students attending non-traditional schools.

  1. Too many privatization entities outside of North Carolina are allowed to shape our education system.

Look at the graphic below:

graph1

That is a diagram of the relationships between entities that many public school advocates deem as detrimental to our public school system. It’s very busy and probably confusing. It’s supposed to be.

Consider the following national entities:

  • Teach For America
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • Eli Broad Foundation
  • KIPP Charter Schools
  • Democrats For Educational Reform
  • Educational Reform Now
  • StudentsFirst
  • America Succeeds
  • 50CAN
  • American Legislative Exchange Council
  • National Heritage Academies
  • Charter School USA
  • Team CFA
  • American Federation for Children

They are all at play in North Carolina, totally enabled by the powers-that-be in the NC General Assembly and their supportive organizations. If you want to see how all of those relationships have panned out in NC and are affecting traditional public schools, then refer to this post: Too Much Damn Privatization of Public Schools.

2. The North Carolina General Assembly is Ignoring the Factors That Hurt Public School Student Achievement.

Last fall, the venerable James Ford of the Public School Forum delivered the keynote address at the North Carolina English Teacher’s Association. It was more than exceptional as Ford highlighted that what hurts our schools are external factors that are not being dealt with such as systemic poverty.

Part of his presentation included a version of what is called the “Iceberg Effect” for education. It looks like this:

iceberg

Ford talked about (and he is not alone in this belief) how what is above the water, namely student outcomes, is what drives educational policies in our state.

Notice that he means what is visible above the water line is what drives policy. That is what the public sees in the press. That is what lawmakers and leaders hark on when discussing what to do about public education.

But look under the water level and one sees poverty, violence, inequity & inequality, and lack of support of young families and for the schools that service the children of at least 80% of those families.

And then it is hard to not think of the state refusing to expand Medicaid for our most needy. It is not hard to think about the Voter ID restriction law amendment and HB2.

Those have effects. HUGE EFFECTS!

3. The North Carolina General Assembly Has Directly Attacked the State’s Public School System.

The list of actions gets longer everyday.

  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
  • A Puppet of a State Superintnent
  • SB599
  • Ever-Changing Teacher Evaluation Protocols
  • “Average” Raises that do not translate to verteran teachers
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil when Adjusted for Inflation
  • Removal Caps on Class Sizes
  • Unregulated Charter Schools
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System
  • Cutting 7400 Teacher Assistants in last ten years
  • Opportunity Grants That will reach almost a Billion Dollars with no Proof of Success
  • Virtual Charter Schools That Have Failed
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program and reinvention in a different entity.
  • Municipal Charter Bill

When all of the factors from these three fronts are synchronistically orchestrated by a super-majority that is aiming to continue the trend of more students leaving traditional public schools, then it becomes apparent that to preserve traditional public schools is paramount.

And that N&O editorial stated it best:

If North Carolina is going to foster school choice, it should first ensure that choosing a traditional public school anywhere in the state is an excellent choice” (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/article214851905.html?__twitter_impression=true).

The NCGA is not doing that –  deliberately.

School Reform From the Cherry Orchard – Reading John Hood’s Latest

When John Hood pens an op-ed that touts how well school reform in North Carolina has served our state, one should start looking for the cherry pits being spit out because such op-eds tend to be nothing more than cherry-picking at best.

Consider his latest from the Carolina Journal and reprinted in EdNC.org entitled “North Carolina excels in school value” (https://www.ednc.org/2018/07/13/north-carolina-excels-in-school-value/).

I invite you to take a look at it. He claims that NC has a “top-ranked system.” In no place in this missive does the word “teacher” ever appear.

Again, the word “teacher” never appears.

The underlying presumption is that the  “reforms” put into place by the current NCGA have allowed for this “top-ranked” moniker to be placed on NC’s crown.

And Hood talks about delineating along the lines of student backgrounds and social variables.

With that definition in mind, here’s one piece of evidence I’ll cite for my factual claim. Every two years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests a representative sample of students across the country in 4th- and 8th-grade reading and math. Using the Urban Institute’s handy tool for adjusting the 2017 NAEP results for age, race or ethnicity, native language, disability, and poverty, I determined that only four states ranked in the top 10 on all four tests: Massachusetts, Florida, New Jersey, and Indiana. Three other states — Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina — were in the top 10 on three of the four tests.

So age, race, ethnicity, native language, disabilities, and poverty have something to do with results? And they can be used to weigh in on “achievement?”

That’s actually nice to hear from Hood – that he would consider those factors in measuring student and school achievement. But it begs another question? Would John Hood allow for those “adjustments” in results to be used for the other metrics that are used by the very NCGA he praises to measure public schools?

Just consider the poverty factor. That alone seems to account for a lot when it comes to measuring schools.

PSFNC2

Can we use Hood’s “analysis” to adjust for “age, race or ethnicity, native language, disability, and poverty” in school performance grades that are being used to fuel the false narrative that NC needs vouchers?

Can we use Hood’s “analysis” to adjust for “age, race or ethnicity, native language, disability, and poverty” in identifying low-performing schools that are being used to fuel the false narrative that NC needs an Innovative School District?

Can we use Hood’s “analysis” to adjust for “age, race or ethnicity, native language, disability, and poverty” in school performance grades that are being used to fuel the false narrative that NC needs municipal charters?

Can we use Hood’s “analysis” to adjust for “age, race or ethnicity, native language, disability, and poverty” in school performance grades that are being used to fuel the false narrative that NC needs more charter schools?

Because he’s sure as hell using them to talk about how great our public schools are. And if Hood is going to use factors like poverty and disabilities in proving that they have an effect on school achievement and scores on tests, then he is doing nothing more than showing you that the NCGA is not really addressing those factors in their other policies.

Think of the Voter ID amendment, the not expanding of Medicaid, and the fact that over a fifth of our students actually live below the poverty line, and you can see how Hood’s op-ed is nothing more than a exercise in cherry-picking.

But if you really want to see how cherry-picked Hood’s assertions really are, then just read this Twitter thread that an actual budget and policy analyst provides in response to Hood’s assertions.

nordstrom1nordstrom2Nordstrom3Nordstrom4

That last tweet says it all:

isn’t broken, but it’s being broken by incompetence/malfeasance, and students of color and students from low-income families are disproportionately paying the price.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hawkins Middle School : How “Stranger Things” Shows Support For Public Schools

The fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana became the epicenter of a lot of “binge-watching” in the last year as the second season of the hit series Stranger Things was released in nine episodes.

Following the trials and tribulations of these school-age kids and their families is rather surreal; the music, the fashion, and the hair styles are as authentically presented now as they were actually in the 1980’s, especially if you are a middle-aged public school teacher who listens to The Clash like he did growing up in a small rural town in Georgia where he rode his bike everywhere without a digital link to everything else in the world.

He just had to be home by dinner.

While the kids and adults in this fictional town battle forces from the “upside down” amidst a government cover-up during the Cold War, it is easy to get lost in the sci-fi aspects of this well-written show. And it is very well-written and produced. But there is one non-human entity that is foundational and serves as the cornerstone to those people in a small section of Indiana: Hawkins Middle School, Home of the Tiger Cubs.

Stockbridge_School

Is there ever an episode where the school was not used as a setting? A place for Mike, Dustin, and Lucas to find answers? Is there ever an episode where the school is not juxtaposed against Hawkins National Laboratory where secretive actions took place?

Think about it. One place is an established public good where taxpayer money helps to educate all of the students who pass through its doors no matter what socioeconomic background they come from. They could be students from single-parent families or presumably stable nuclear families. They could be interested in a variety of curious endeavors like Dungeons & Dragons or audio/visual technology. Some of the kids ride their bicycles to this place.

stranger-things-filming-locations-hawkins-middle-school-2

The other is surrounded by gates and fences and can only be entered by people who are “chosen.” That place does not have to show others what happens there or how it “assesses” matters. If someone who is not a “staff member” or “student” there is caught on the premises, then punishment ensues.

But like the first place, this one is also financed by taxpayer money. Yet here, money is being used to create something private that is supposed to combat a problem that does not exist, but it creates an even bigger problem for all people.

While the parallels between Hawkins Middle School and Hawkins National Laboratory may be an exercise in fandom, they are rather apparent to those who question the actions of the North Carolina General Assembly when it comes to “reforming” public education.

If there ever was a cornerstone for the characters in Hawkins, IN, then it is the public school. It serves as the greatest foundation of that community.

The AV Room. Heathkit. School assemblies. The gymnasium. Science class. Mr. Clarke. Eleven channeling Will. Makeshift isolation tank. Portal to the Upside Down. The Snow Ball. Parents were students there. Ghostbusters suits.

hawkins

Those are tied to Hawkins Middle School.

So is growing up, coming of age, hallway conversations, epiphanies, learning about others, following curiosities, finding answers to questions you learned to ask.

Those are also tied to Hawkins Middle School.

What is attached to Hawkins National Laboratory is unregulated, politicized, and secretive. That is not to say that some charter schools do not serve vital purposes. Their original intent was to be a place where pedagogical approaches not used in traditional public schools would be used to see if what was successful could be implemented into public schools. But that is becoming more the exception and not the norm here in North Carolina.

Yes, the show takes place in Indiana and not North Carolina. My childhood roaming on a bicycle happened in Georgia and not North Carolina. But does that matter?

Ironically, Stranger Things happens to be a show created by two North Carolinians (from Durham, no less – “Mess With the Bull, Get the Horns”) and shot in Georgia, but Hawkins is really any town where a majority of students go to public schools.

And just like in the 1980’s, public schools today are the heart of communities.

 

 

Local Supplements For Teachers Mean More Than You May Think

North Carolina’s General Assembly can now make the claim that the average teacher salary is over $50,000 / year. That is at least until it gets rid of its veteran teachers.

T. Keung Hui’s report for McClatchy Regional News this past March entitled “N.C. teachers are now averaging more than $50,000 a year” clearly shows that average salary is being bolstered by the very people that the NC General Assembly wants to rid the state of: veteran teachers with due-process rights.

Hui, the education reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer, begins:

The average salary for a North Carolina teacher has increased to more than $50,000 a year for the first time.

Recently released figures from the state Department of Public Instruction put the average salary for a North Carolina public school teacher at $51,214 this school year. That’s $1,245 more than the previous school year.

The $50,000 benchmark has been a major symbolic milestone, with Republican candidates having campaigned in 2016 about how that figure had already been reached. Democrats argued that the $50,000 mark hadn’t been reached yet and that Republicans hadn’t done enough, especially for highly experienced teachers.

The average teacher salary has risen 12 percent over the past five years, from $45,737 a year. Since taking control of the state legislature in 2011, Republicans raised the starting base salary for new teachers to $35,000 and gave raises to other teachers (http://www.journalnow.com/news/state_region/n-c-teachers-are-now-averaging-more-than-a-year/article_e3fe232c-1332-5f6e-89e5-de7c428436fb.html ).

There’s a term in that statement upon which the truth really hinges. Do not mind that the average pay will decrease over time as the highest salary a new teacher could make in the new budget is barely over 50k. That is fodder for another argument like this one, /https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/07/17/the-ignoramasaurus-rex-how-gov-mccrorys-claim-on-average-teacher-pay-is-not-really-real/ .

The term I am referring to is “local supplement.”

You may be wondering, “What the hell is that?” Well, a local supplement is an additional amount of money that a local district may apply on top the state’s salary to help attract teachers to come and stay in a particular district. While people may be fixated on actual state salary schedule, a local supplement has more of a direct effect on the way a district can attract and retain teachers, especially in this legislative climate.

My own district, the Winston-Salem /Forsyth County Schools, currently ranks in the teens in the state with local supplements. Our neighbor, Guilford County, ranks much higher.

Arika Herron’s, the former education reporter in my town, talked about in the August 7th, 2016 edition of the Winston-Salem Journal the effect of local supplements. The article “Schools looking for ways to cut spending, boost salaries” defines teacher supplements as a way “to improve teacher recruitment and retention.” It also talks about how it is viewed in the eyes of teachers and elected officials. Take a look at some of the quotes ( http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/schools-looking-for-ways-to-cut-spending-boost-salaries/article_f487023a-9aec-52a3-b084-20e0bf323091.html?mode=image&photo=).

Trey Ferguson is a younger teacher from Wake County.

Trey Ferguson said salary supplements were a huge factor when he and his wife were looking for their first teaching jobs three years ago.

An N.C. State graduate, Ferguson said they looked in the areas where both he and his wife grew up, but local salary supplements didn’t compare to what Wake County Public Schools were offering.

Jim Brooks is a veteran teacher in Wilkes County.

For veteran teachers, the supplements can be viewed differently. Because the supplements have to come from local funds — those provided by local governments through taxes — supplements can also be seen as a measure of community support, said Jim Brooks, 31-year teaching veteran with Wilkes County Schools.

Brooks said that while salary supplements weren’t something he considered when looking for his first job and are not enough to draw him away from the home he’s made in Wilkes County, they can be a way that teachers get a sense of their value in a community.”

“It’s kind of saying, ‘We value the work you do; We want to go beyond how the state compensates you,’” he said.

One board member here in WSFCS, Lori Goins Clark, said,

“We need to do better for our teachers. They don’t get paid enough to do one of the hardest jobs there is in the world.

 

And recently, Wake County had to offset a budget shortfall by pulling back its local supplements because of the state’s budget.

What gets twisted here is that in creating local supplements for teachers many mitigating factors come into light and when North Carolina began bragging about the new average salary it was telling you that Raleigh was placing more of a burden on local districts to create a positive spin on GOP policies in an election year.

It also gives you a little more insight into the provision passed recently by the NCGA to allow property taxes in localities to be used to finance local schools more.

The past few budgets that were passed cut monies to the Department of Public Instruction, therefore limiting DPI’s abilities to disperse ample amounts of money to local county and city districts for various initiatives like professional development and support. When local central offices have less money to work with, they then have to prioritize their needs to match their financial resources. That means some school systems cannot offer a local supplement to teachers because they are scrambling to fulfill other needs that a fully funded state public school system would already offer.

And it is not just about whether to have a couple of program managers for the district. It’s about whether to allow class sizes to be bigger so that more reading specialists can be put into third grade classes, or more teacher assistants to help special needs kids like mine succeed in lower grades. Or even physical resources like software and desks.

What the current GOP-led NCGA did was to create a situation where local districts had to pick up more of the tab to fund everyday public school functions.

What adds to this is that this governing body is siphoning more and more tax money to entities like charter schools, Opportunity Grants, an ISD district, and other privatizing efforts. Just look at the amount of money the state has spent on private lawyer fees to defend indefensible measures like HB2, the Voter ID law, and redistricting maps?

But back local supplements. Look at the stats from a couple of years ago concerning local supplements that Herron included in her report. Wake ranked the highest, Guilford County was sixth, and WSFCS was 19th.

But this is telling.

localsupplement

These differences can add up. For a younger teacher, that can swing a decision. And we in WSFCS get a lot of teacher candidates. Look at the teacher preparation programs that surround us – Wake Forest, Winston-Salem State, Salem College, App State, and UNCG just to name a few that actually place student teachers in my school.

For a veteran teacher like myself, a competitive local supplement could mean that I feel valued by the very system that still lacks enough teachers to start the school year fully staffed.

So, what can a district’s community do to help teachers come and stay in a particular district?

  • They can look at local supplements as a way of investing rather than being taxed.
  • They can go and vote for candidates on the state level who support public education.
  • They can go and vote for county commissioners who are committed to helping fully fund public schools.
  • And they can go and investigate how all of the financing of schools works. It is not as black and white as some may believe it is. Rather it is very much interconnected.

The current culture in our state has not been very kind to public school teachers. Competitive local supplements could go a long way in showing value in public schools.